Passing on 'foolproof' pick-up tips. Is this 'grooming' for adults?

US book hailed as the ultimate seduction manual is heading here. Feminists are infuriated by its cynicism. Andrew Johnson reports

A book described as the ultimate seduction manual is published next month, revealing a series of psychological tricks guaranteed to work, regardless of wealth or looks. It will delight saloon bar Casanovas everywhere. But The Game has already proved controversial, with female commentators describing it as "inhuman and cynical".

The author, Neil Strauss, uses the book to detail a two-year sojourn in the extraordinary world of the self-styled "pick-up artist" - seduction experts who make a fortune from seminars, books and self-help tapes.

Tom Cruise's character in the film Magnolia is said to be based on one of the real-life "players" in the book.

By using the kind of magician's psychology normally associated with Derren Brown, and other techniques such as neuro-linguistic programming, they claim no woman is off-limits. They are men who have spent years researching what women are attracted to, Mr Strauss says. They have developed their own jargon, codes of honour and community; they even share houses called "projects". One of Strauss's housemates was the singer annd actress Courtney Love, who makes an appearance in the book.

Seminars typically end in a "field trip" where socially challenged men are taken to bars and clubs in order to put the new techniques they have learned into practice.

In researching his book Mr Strauss claims to have become a "player" himself, transforming his persona from a nerdy, balding journalist into "Style", a smooth-talking character able to attract beautiful women. He even tried out his techniques on Britney Spears.

His book is being kept closely under wraps ahead of its publication date. But in an article Strauss wrote for The New York Times during his research last year, he claimed he had progressed so far that he was taking classes himself, and revealed some of the tricks.

One technique is known as the "neg", to be used only with the most beautiful women who are accustomed to a steady stream of compliments. He explains: "Neither a compliment nor an insult, the neg holds two purposes: to lower a woman's self-esteem and to suggest an intriguing disinterest. (Nice nails, are they real? No? Oh. They look nice anyway.)"

Feminists are aghast at the book, pointing out that it fails to describe how to maintain relationships and likening the techniques used to those employed by paedophiles to groom their victims. There is also concern that women are "programmed" to be attracted to certain characteristics in men which predatory males can identify and exploit.

Germaine Greer, author of the ground-breaking book The Female Eunuch, said that it "maddened" her that women were susceptible to exploitative men and likened the book's message to "fucking for sport".

"I've always told young women who think they are looking for Mr Right that they are really searching for Mr Wrong, because that is who the exciting, charismatic charmer normally turns out to be," she said. "It's profoundly destructive behaviour. If you get raped by a complete stranger in your bedroom it's like being hit by a bus; it is obviously shocking. But if you are raped by someone you think you are being intimate with, which is what it is, then you have been done in, you are badly hurt and it will affect your self-esteem.

"Women used to know all the gambits that men might use; now they don't seem to know them. They are so needy for love that they will interpret the most cynical behaviour as affection."

The feminist writer Beatrix Campbell was equally caustic, arguing that it "sexually objectified women". "Nowhere from its description do you get a sense of men being helped to be human in an easy and agreeable way," she said. "It's not about having any rapport or relationship. The argument about women being vulnerable is irrelevant. We all find somebody who is self-possessed attractive, and we've all been receptive to charm, no matter however briefly. In a way these courses are helping men to be a bit less useless in their engagement with women, using charm and a bit of ingenuity to seduce. But the only thing that will help them in relationships is empathy and liking women."

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